Developing our healing muscles

“When we polarize light and dark, our healing remains partial and obsessive, easily undone.” p. 27

I turn again this week to Miriam Greenspan’s work Healing Through the Dark Emotions. As this opening quote suggests, for true healing we need to do more than classify our emotions, experiences and thoughts into good and bad or positive and negative. Indeed, as Greenspan argues, failure to recognize that these are dynamic polarities can stymy our attempts to learn and grow.

What makes clinging to static, polarized categories unproductive? Why does such an approach slow or limit our healing? One key reason is that it keeps us stuck in a fixed mindset. As I’ve described in Do You Seek to Demonstrate or Develop Diversity, the fixed mindset keeps us reliant on external motivators such as tangible rewards or punishments and puts us at risk of only taking action when someone is compelling us to do so. This damages our chances for healing because typically you only gain the approbation of the external world if you get over your hurt quickly and move on with your life.

In line with the fixed mindset, the wider world is attuned to the demonstration of healing and considers it a one-time thing. Furthermore, the all-or-none outlook of the fixed mindset says that you are either well or ill, healed or still hurting. However, the work of learning from challenging feelings, events and ruminations occupies the liminal space between broken and healed rather than neatly falling into either of these two categories. As such, at the present moment there is little respect for such healing work and perhaps even less support for people trying to find their way to a broader-based sense of what is good and bad. Returning to wholeness, however, is a continuing process, one which requires you to construct a fuller and richer sense of your place in the world and the world’s within you. Embracing a growth mindset when it comes to healing means that one seeks to uncover the value in the pain, the good that not only can be recognized but also developed.

“When we can broaden the story of our suffering…emotional alchemy happens quite naturally. We learn that suffering | does not have to deaden; it can also enliven. It does not have to weaken, it can also strengthen. It does not have to diminish but can enlarge us. We go to ‘shrinks’ to reduce our suffering, when what we need is to open to it and let it expand us.” pp. 26-27

As I discussed in Educating Our Palates About Development, adopting a fixed mindset has another disadvantage: it can often mean giving up when the going gets tough. You see yourself as having only a fixed amount of strength or capacity to engage in the healing process. And when that process does not flow smoothly and easily, when you can’t cope perfectly with new or existing setbacks, you may decide that there is no way forward because something internal to you is eternally broken. From this position you cease to strive for clarity in terms of your emotions and beliefs and instead begin to process things through the lens of the passive victim. In this state, all of your energy and zest for life dissipates.

“Painful emotions challenge us to know the sacred in the broken; to develop an enlarged sense of self beyond the suffering ego, an awareness that comes from being mindful of life’s difficulties, rather than disengaging from them; to arrive at a wider and deeper perspective not limited by our pain but expanded by it.” p. 27

Because despair, fear and grief are a part of being human, so too is healing. When we face tough situations, be they ugly and unpleasant words and actions or major shifts that force us to reappraise our lives from the ground up, we are not powerless. We can use the lens of diversity and inclusion to build bridges that join the positive and the negative into a greater, healing whole rather than erecting walls that divide us from ourselves and others in our suffering world. That is the diversity dividend.

 

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 


Miriam Greenspan. (2003). Healing through the dark emotions. The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston: Shambala.

Advertisements
Developing our healing muscles

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink has adopted and adapted Carol Dweck’s terminology – her fixed and growth mindsets – to talk about motivation. As I interpret his work, the fixed mindset (or the entity theorist in his terms) compels us to action through external motivators, whereas the growth mindset (or the incremental theorist in his terms) engages our desire to act through internal motivators.

“Equally important, engagement as a route to mastery is a powerful force in our personal lives. While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

p. 112

 

“ To analogize to physical qualities, incremental theorists consider intelligence as something like strength. (Want to get stronger and more muscular? Start pumping iron.) Entity theorists view it as something more like height. (Want to get taller? You’re out of luck.) If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational experience becomes a measure of how much you have. If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunities for growth. In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other it’s something you develop.

p. 121

As I read the passages quoted above, I was prompted to think about how these ideas could be applied to motivating people within the diversity context.

When you operate from a fixed mindset (entity theorists), your goals for diversity work are about demonstrating the existence of diversity. Diversity is something you have or you don’t. To demonstrate it, you create mountains of statistics, you tick off the boxes into which individuals fall and you feel you are doing well when you measure what you’ve got and the total score is a high one.

When you operate from a growth mindset (incremental theorists), your goals for diversity work are about developing the diversity that exists and finding new areas in which you and your team can grow – both by adding new members and by making the most of what is already present. Diversity has always been there and now that you recognize it, you can work to strengthen what you have. You feel you are doing well when you can see an increase in the ways in which you and others identify yourselves and in the ways all of you seek to be identified.

How is your mindset affecting the way you think about and work with diversity?

  1. Do you tend to see identity as something that is flexible or something that is fixed?
  2. Do you find yourself claiming the power to self-identify or do you feel forced live with the identities others grant or impose on you?
  3. Is diversity an ongoing journey of discovery or simply an endpoint to be reached and filed away?

Your emphasis on either the demonstration or the development of diversity has knock-on consequences: When you demonstrate diversity, typically it is a one-time thing; when you develop diversity, typically it is a continuing process. Take a look at where you fall on this continuum in the various domains of your life, and, if you find yourself on the “demonstrate performance” end of the spectrum in one or more areas, consider the follow-up question of how effectively is this mindset “getting you through the night.”

 

Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

Telling our whole stories

“[C]onsider the notion of empowerment. It presumes that the organization has the power and benevolently ladles some of it into the waiting bowls of grateful employees.” p. 91

In this quote Dan Pink was describing one of the faulty assumption he sees arising from the use of extrinsic motivational strategies. As I re-read it for this week’s post, though, it struck me that he could also have been talking about identity. A society or a culture is often the arbiter of what labels are available for us to use to define ourselves. Thus rather than growing into our souls, we wait with our bowls outstretched, yearning to hear what aspects of ourselves we can claim and likewise which are not acceptable.

In the organizational case, the prevailing wisdom Pink is challenging is that the individual requires something or someone external to sanction his or her power. In the case of diversity work, a critical misconception we are seeking to overturn is that only the powerful and the privileged have the right to define the options for naming and framing one’s identity. Complying with these externally mandated conventions when defining yourself usually comes at a cost: a cost to self-esteem because it presumes an outsider has the right to be making decisions about your worthiness, and a cost to self-understanding because when we use only the labels approved by others, we must often hide or deny a part of who we are.

With these thoughts and Pink’s quote in mind, consider the following questions:

  • Where have you given away your power to define yourself?
  • What stories about who you are do you struggle to tell due to a dearth of appropriate language?
  • Where is the currently acceptable terminology marginalizing key parts of your identity while perhaps empowering other aspects that you see as only incidental?

Your whole story deserves to be told and thus diversity work needs to include striving to create environments where intrinsic sources of power and motivation are brought to the fore. In such environments, the only permission you need to be yourself is from yourself. When you can embrace who you are and use that definition to build self-esteem, self-compassion and self-respect, you are able tap into your deepest sources of power — self-awareness and self-trust.

 


Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.

 

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Telling our whole stories